Ed Kinane: “I came to the Supreme Court on Jan. 11 to petition my government to redress a tragic and frightening grievance: its illegal and inhumane treatment of fellow human beings held at Guantanamo.” Michael Davis photo.
Facing a judge is nothing new for Kinane, who has been arrested dozens of times and served time in federal prison during his five decades of activism. But this time there is a twist. When a judge asks Kinane his name, the 63-year-old South Side resident plans to tell him that he is representing “Massoum Abdah,” a Syrian-born Kurdish man captured in Pakistan in 2003. Abdah, who also has been identified by the name Shargo Shirz Juwan, has never been charged with a crime, but has been held at Guantanamo for nearly five years. Kinane believes he also may have been tortured.
Kinane was himself arrested inside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 11 during a protest against the denial of the right of habeas corpus and alleged torture of prisoners at the facility also called “Gitmo,” on the eastern tip of Cuba. Seventy-eight other people from seven states were arrested along with Kinane, and all took the name of Guantanamo detainees. They intend to use those names when called to trial.
“I came to the Supreme Court on Jan. 11,” explained Kinane, “to petition my government to redress a tragic and frightening grievance: its illegal and inhumane treatment of fellow human beings held at Guantanamo.” He had expected to participate in what he described as a “somber, liturgical event” when suddenly “guards pounced on us” and the protesters knelt and began to chant “shut Guantanamo down.” It was a rare if not unique event at the usually staid high court, although none of the nine justices were within earshot.
Abdah was among those detainees whom the Bush administration initially contended were enemy combatants and could be held without legal proceedings. Later he appeared before a tribunal set up to judge whether he was, in fact, an enemy combatant. In an October 2004 memo summarizing evidence against Abdah, the U.S. government alleged that he was a member of the Taliban, had managed a Taliban safe house in Kabul, had been with the Taliban at Tora Bora, and that his name was on a list for sniper training conducted by the Taliban.
In response, Abdah maintained that he had gone to Afghanistan to make love, not war. According to government documents, he contended that he had gone there to find a wife, noting that the process of finding a good Muslim wife in Syria is prohibitively expensive. In Afghanistan, the dowry and other costs are barely 10 percent of what he might have to pay at home. He conceded that he did rent a room at the safe house, but never managed it, and denied that he was the person referred to on the list for sniper training.
Since the time of his initial classification as an enemy combatant, Abdah’s case has been subject to two annual administrative reviews. He did not participate in these reviews, which in any case confirmed the government’s decision to continue to hold him.
According to Witness Against Torture, the religious group that organized the protest, 34 of the Supreme Court demonstrators have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from their actions on Jan. 11. They will continue their protest during the trial itself, taking the names of the Guantanamo inmates and justifying their acts as defenses of the U.S. Constitution, international law and human rights. They plan to call witnesses to document the abuses at Guantanamo.
On the morning of the trial, those charged will walk from the U.S. Supreme Court to the Washington, D.C. Municipal Court in orange jumpsuits and black hoods bearing the names of Guantanamo inmates. They plan to place placards with detainee names and copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the Magna Carta on the sidewalk outside the court. These acts, said protest organizers, will symbolize their demand that the detainees be granted due process and protection against torture.
Kinane’s protest was timed to mark the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo prison. He, along with the others arrested at the Supreme Court, faces a maximum of 60 days in jail. The group of protesters arrested inside, where they attempted to unfurl a banner reading “Close Guantanamo,” may be sentenced to an additional 60 days if convicted of disturbing the court. Kinane, who was detained for 30 hours, has no idea what to expect if convicted. He allowed that being sentenced to time served would be “appropriate.”
The Bush administration has referred to those prisoners held at Guantanamo as “the worst of the worst, and members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” More recently the administration has come to see the base as a public relations liability, given the tales of torture and mistreatment that have been told by advocates and former inmates.
Kinane heads off to this latest trial just weeks after being found guilty of disorderly conduct for his part in an anti-war demonstration in downtown Syracuse on March 19. Syracuse City Court Judge James Cecile sentenced him to 50 hours of community service for his role in shutting down traffic along South Salina Street for nearly an hour.
He views the issue of Guantanamo Bay as something that is “not over there, it’s right here. If they can get away with this at Guantanamo, I’m pretty concerned about myself and others here getting rounded up.”